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In Search of the Anti-Crisis: The Ultimate Yoga Experience in Paris

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"People buy things with money they don't have to impress people who don't care."

"This is a time when you should be surrounded by people who love you enough so you can evolve." -- Bernard Mariette, founder of Lole

How many of us are tired of hearing about "the crisis" and want to leave the stress of it all behind... at least for a while? How many of us stop and take half an hour or hour a day and remember to breathe deeply, to refocus? There is way more good than bad out there, and if there is one positive outcome of "the crisis," it could be that we are reevaluating and concentrating on priorities again -- real ones. As my friend's late mother always told her, "Love life and life will love you back!" I agree, and one has to begin by loving oneself.

A few weeks ago, surrounded by the kind of people you feel do indeed love you enough that you can evolve, I participated in a Sufi meditation group in Hampstead, North London, and realized that I had not felt this kind of perfect relaxation and unfocused focusing ambiance in a collective way for more than a decade. I had not felt this way since my days at Vijay's yoga sessions in Seattle, in a lovely wooden building built amongst a Japanese garden, all windows looking out toward nature, wood stove with rocks warming as we did yoga, to be held and placed on bellies and bodies afterward as we drank tea and enjoyed the afterglow of a great yoga experience.

It all felt somehow non-commercial, and the Sufi meditation in London was just that, but I did pay for Vijay's instruction. I paid so willingly -- it too felt simply like flow. Money is energy, and I received more energy back from these sessions than I ever could give in terms of money.

The Sufi meditation experience reminded me of what I had left behind far too long ago when I moved away from the Pacific Northwest. And though I swim, walk and ride free bicycles in Paris every day, I know what is missing in this other experience, one I want to do with the right group, in the right setting. It is tiring thinking and writing about the various crises in the world today: the financial crisis, the Arab Spring, climate change... it helps to be able to check out and check in to something deeper, reenergize, refocus, slow down our own personal climate change, and simply remember to breathe.

In Paris, I found myself looking for a similar experience, with a more physical approach, and discovered the yoga meet-ups in a space that recently opened and was somehow both a boutique and a place to breathe and do yoga. I was introduced to this place called Lole by one of my closest friends in Paris, a former finance woman turned National Geographic photographer and yoga lover, Canadian Debra Kellner (see her work at www.debrakellner.com). She knows personally what it means to leave the life of money-focus and live your dream, because she did just that. Her work focuses on women, mostly in the Himalayas, and her gut instincts are good. I regularly hear about the "downward dog," various kinds of yoga and yogis, and sharing the experience in India, Paris, and North America, where she always seems to attract precisely the right kind of atmosphere and people to make it memorable. So when she suggested I meet with her for a yoga class at Lole, in the Marais, I went.

The experience was basically life changing. At Lole meet-ups, visiting yogis and expert yoga instruction are mixed with a laid back atmosphere in something that is not quite a yoga center and take place in a space that is not quite a boutique for yoga clothes, but more of what the French call an "atelier" -- a work space that is deeply creative. There is no cash register (once again a feeling of a non-commercial experience) and no hard sell; things seem simpler than that. In fact, check the crisis at the door seems to be the feeling when one enters the space. The meet ups are free. Lole encourages you to donate either via Kiva for micro loans to women or even bring in an old coat in exchange for a discount.

The yoga instructor, Laurence Gay, was one of the very best I have ever had. I was actually in tears while smiling by the end of the session. The vibe in the room was great. Debra came over and gave me a hug. That is what great meditative and yoga experiences are about: a shift somehow taking place in a very organic way, through breathing and a deep remembering of who we are, and how we are One with everyone, everything, all around us.

Lole is leading the way in a kind of feminine evolution of what we might call a yoga mentality toward fashion. Basically it is about just being yourself and having life, clothes, and even work evolve out of that as opposed to forcing yourself to meet anyone's expectations. They brought together thousands of women with a leading female yogi on the esplanade in front of the Eiffel Tower not long ago. That kind of group energy has a strong effect. They are not a clothes shop with items hanging in a shop window. They offer experiences, meet-ups, a place to chill. When I think of how mostly-male sports fashion has dominated the scene for decades now, via Nike, Adidas and Puma, then adventure gear such as Patagonia, Timberland (once run by the head of Lole) and REI, or even the surfer influence of Quicksilver (also revamped by Bernard Mariette), I realize most of this is not coming from a female approach to the physical. What Lole is doing is more about well-being, feeling comfortable, and about being in an experience in a non-violent, reflective way. Yoga is intellectual and physical and is being practiced by more people than ever before. In 2002, 85 percent of U.S. gyms offered some kind of yoga class. This was definitely not the case when I began practicing more than two decades ago. I recently heard that the numbers are approaching 16 million people in the U.S. who are regularly practicing yoga. It's also great for kids.

Why do we need yoga now more than ever? Is it simply because people are more stressed out? We have been trained to become consumers first, humans second. We deeply need to rediscover another way of existing.

"We are often pushed by someone into evolving," Bernard Mariette, CEO of Lole, told me in Paris, where we had a long talk about how many people have found themselves unemployed as a result of the economy, but that for some, this has been an opportunity to shift in a major way. "I was busier unemployed than employed," he added. This is how Lole came to be. It has to be about a better experience, not selling yet another sports shoe for yet another kind of sport. Just design one great shoe that is versatile. It is about living your life, existing, not being a consumer.

I find this approach to business refreshing. Business is one aspect of ourselves. I actually believe we are all entrepreneurs and was taught this and came to see it to be true while working alongside Muhammad Yunus, the founder of microcredit. I also like the recycling approach Lole is involved with through its "Best Friend" program. Basically, the Lole approach to its customers functions off its premise that you bring in a secondhand coat you own, and in exchange Lole donates it to someone who needs it and gives a card that entitles the donor to a big discount. "Students got it right away because they are used to reselling their books. And in this case, if you are generous, you are a kind of VIP for us at Lole," Bernard Mariette informed me. They also channel donations to Kiva, to provide microloans for people to start businesses. I love this concept of generosity.

When I asked Debra Kellner how she came to know Bernard Mariette and the entire Lole concept, she replied, "When I asked him what he wanted me to do for Lole, he said, 'just be you.' Who could ask for more?"

Here is Debra's beautiful visual message, which opens with the well-known yogi, Dina Amsterdam (with music by Steve Davis): http://www.lolewomen.com/blog/2012/03/12/under-an-eternal-sky-2/

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